If you are braced to taste the mystifying paradox that India can serve up, than a visit to its megacity, Ahmedabad, comes as a prescription. Nestled in the heart of Gujarat, this zesty city provides one with a generous buffet of stimulation that swears to enliven all the five senses. A day here is like living through an enigmatic and passionate dance between the old and the contemporary, the virtuous and the ruthless, the peaceful and the chaotic, the artistic and the crude, the spiritual and the material.
But these very opposites often carry many visitors to such thresholds, that after a point, they find themselves immersed in the innate spirit of this enchanting place. Many who came here have never left. It is not because this city is perfect. Far from it. But it is because this city lives from the ‘heart’ and one can feel it. If you can scratch through the surface of the smog, than you'll begin to experience its raw aesthetic energy and irrepressible spirit.
One end the noise of industrial growth and readily sprouting malls will amaze you and on the other end the serenity of the Gandhi ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati river will calm you. The elite educational institutions might impress you, and the unbreakable spirit and hospitality of the people residing at the grassroots might humble you. The traffic will flummox you, but hopefully the art and culture will refresh you.
Ahmedabad was the largest city in terms of area within the subcontinent before the arrival of the British and the setting of the Madras and Calcutta Presidency.
Early 11th to 14th Century
The area around Ahmedabad was ruled by a Bhil king around the 11th century and was known as Ashapalli or Ashaval. The Solanki ruler of Patan, Karandev I, defeated the Bhil king in a war and established his kingdom, Karnavati at what is known as Maninagar today. The Solanki rule retained its hold until the 13th century, after which the reigns fell in the hands of the Vaghela dynasty of Dholka. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, all of Gujarat was captured by the Sultanate of Delhi and the Muzaffarid dynasty ruled here.
There is a well known legend, that around 1411 Sultan Ahmed Shah was standing by the Sabarmati river when the unusual sight of a hare chasing a ferocious dog caught his attention. He was impressed by the influence of this land that cultivated fearlessness in its people and so he decided to establish his capital in this forest area and named it Ahmedabad. The construction had begun with the fort wall housing the intricately designed city within. The wall was consecrated at four points by four ‘Ahmeds’, Sheikh Ahmed Khattu, Ganj Baksh, Kazi Ahmed, Malek Ahmed and Sutan Ahmed Shah.The construction was completed in 1417 AD.
The Mughal Reign
The Muzaffarid dynasty ruled Ahmedabad until 1573 after which Gujarat was conquered by the Mughal emperor Akbar. From an early period the people here displayed a sharp business acumen and added immensely to its prosperity. It became one of the thriving centres of trade of the Mughal empire, especially in textiles, which were exported as far as Middle East and Europe. Some of the major items they traded were cotton, silk and other luxury goods. Sarkhej was the largest producer of Indigo, and India controlled over 90% of the worlds Indigo cultivation. It was during the later part of the Sultanate era that influential nobles moved out of the walled city to set up suburban garden paradises around; today their names are part of the city’s postal heritage. Navrangmiya set up Navrangpura, Usmankhan and Chengiz Khan lend their names to Usmanpura and Chengizpur (also known as Mithakali). The Mughals, when they took over the city, built a series of gardens in their unique style. The names Amraiwadi, Ambawadi and Shahibaag echo memories of past greenery.
The Marathas Ruled
In 1630, the city was struck by a devastating famine. This marked the rapid downward fall of this once flourishing fort. In 1753, the armies of the Maratha generals Raghunath Rao and Damaji Gaekwad conquered the city, marking the end of the Mughal empire in Ahmedabad.The city began to disintegrate under this new regime.
The British Raj and Indian Independence Movement
In 1818, the British East India Company entered the scene and took over the city from the Marathas. However, the Indian Independence movement laid deep foundations in the city in 1915 when Mahatma Gandhi set up the Kochrab Ashram near Paldi. Thereafter he moved to the Sabarmati Ashram (or the Satyagraha Ashram) in 1917. The ashram became the heartbeat of the national non-violent movement and the nurturing ground for many inspiring revolutionaries and teachers. In 1930 Gandhi vowed to never come back to Ahmedabad till he had attained freedom from the British oppression. He walked on foot from the ashram to Dandi on the historic Salt March. This is when thousands of Ahmedabadis joined in these peaceful protests and once again showed their sacrifice and solidarity in 1942 during the Quit India Movement, rendering many government and economic buildings vacant.
Right up to the late 1970's Ahmedabad was prone to flooding by the Sabarmati River. The most damaging flood on record took place on 23rd September 1875; approximately 3800 houses were inundated besides damage to other properties amounting to a total loss of 7.5 lakhs to the city.
India attained independence from the British in 1947. However, the partition divided the fabric of the city into communal hatred and terrifying riots broke out between the Hindus and the Muslims. On May 1st, 1960 Gujarat was separated from the State of Bombay and Ahmedabad was named the new state capital of Gujarat. Later the capital was shifted to Gandhinagar. In the ensuing years Ahmedabad became the breeding ground for some of the most well known education institutes, industries, information technology, business, art, music and culture, activism and social development organizations.
How to get there
By road: Gujarat has one of the better developed road networks in India. Ahmedabad is well connected with all major cities and towns by road. Prominent bus stops are located at Gitamandir near Kalupur Railway Station and Paldi. Regular bus services are available by Gujarat state transport buses and private operators to all the major destinations of the state.
By rail: The main railway station is located in Kalupur area. This station falls under the prominent national railway circuit and is connected to all major cities of India. If you are on the western side of the Sabarmati river, then you can go to the Gandhigram station near Ashram road to buy your railway tickets easily.
By air: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel airport at Ahmedabad is an international airport with direct flights to USA, UK, Singapore, Dubai and other international hubs. Numerous domestic flights are also operational from here